Complexity, Dynamics and Risk


This article was published on the November 2015 edition of the African Business magazine

Anyone seeking to be a successful leader needs to acquire the skills to negotiate an increasingly complex world environment

Large numbers of migrants crossing borders to escape violence and seeking opportunity elsewhere challenge border post officials and Foreign Ministers alike, not to mention the pressure they create for political leaders to engage in increased coordination in real time, while managing the spotlight of the press and the buzz of social media.

Crowds of young people looking for jobs in Europe and Africa are increasingly vocal and demand the immediate attention of politicians, even though sustainable solutions would take years to put in place.

Contagious diseases like Ebola threaten harmony in previously peaceful communities, compelling global leaders to find urgent and coordinated solutions.

Policy makers need to handle complex scientific and social information with little room for mistakes, whether deciding on genetically modified seed varieties, implementation arrangements to adapt to climate change, or labour policies that balance the needs of the youth and the ageing. Leaders of countries have to increasingly mind not only what is going on within their borders, but also events in countries geographically distant from them. Company executives need to be cognizant of changing preferences and the lightning speed at which trends are shaped and reshaped, and brands lionised or destroyed.

In my book, Leadership in a Globalized World: Complexity, Dynamics and Risk, I present a synthesis of the tools available to leaders to navigate in this complex environment. The areas covered include skills to be adept at observing patterns of change; understanding the dynamics of change; and reacting proficiently to urgent challenges. Other skills relate to harnessing complexity in taking day-to-day decisions, while making smart use of tools for consultation, dialogue, empathising with others, and scanning and mapping risks.

Delivering superior performance every day requires skills for learning, innovation and creating repeated success, aided by a strong ability to work across borders, co-create with others, and imagine an emerging reality. While the tools developed are from academic research in multiple disciplines, the book relies on a series of case studies from real life to bring to life Theory U.

Learning from examples in a variety of industries, firms, governments and geographies, we discover that a good leader learns from others and from past experiences including – and especially from – failure. Good leaders in a complex world take major shifts in people, economy, resources and technology spheres in their stride. The skill of extracting and following patterns wins when many things are changing. Skilled leaders use change to shape strategy and harness the very complexity they are dealing with, to manage risks and exploit opportunities for results.

Of particular importance are leaders skilled at dealing with local and global issues in a coherent governance framework; whether at the country, corporation, or organisation level.

Good leaders know how to harness the special role of individuals and their preferences to shape common or collective outcomes beyond the scales of their geographical confines. Successful leaders in government, corporations, and civil society, as well as those interested in development, adapt “how” they engage in addition to “what” and “why” they engage in decision making.

Effective leaders are not afraid to fail and even relish it as an opportunity to learn.

Striving towards the horizon, not knowing what lies ahead, navigating through winding paths that are steep and foggy, driven by the desire to get a better outcome, makes the journey of leading in a complex world exciting.

Frannie A. Léautier


Frannie A. Léautier is Chairperson and Co-Founding Partner of Mkoba Private Equity, and previously served as Executive Secretary of the African Capacity Building Foundation


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